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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Well, if you like machine guns, fistfights and fast cars, but you want more substance and good writing, how about a heart-pumping novel? For our Three Books series today, author Alan Heathcock has a few to recommend. Heathcock says he avoids arguments, he chooses his battles, but sometimes you have to brace yourself for an attack.

ALAN HEATHCOCK: I'm not a violent man by nature, but I've had my scrapes. And if there's one unassailable truth I know about a fistfight, it's this: To endure is everything. In that vein, these three books follow winners who endure the slaps and stomps and gouges of a hard life fought well.

When a Harvard boy named Andrews heads West to experience the American frontier, he considers only his Emerson-inspired desire to be a part of the openness of nature. Instead, he finances a buffalo hunt, taking him into the dark heart of men and the unbending will of nature. John Williams' "Butcher's Crossing" is a Western masterpiece.

In rural Michigan, the setting of Bonnie Jo Campbell's "American Salvage," you'd best thicken your skin. A girl is clipped by a car and sent flying. A family finds their cabin has been turned into a meth lab. But these are not quitters. These people fight for the better life, the better love, the connection found and the nightmare purged.

What inspired endurance we find in Brian Moore's "Black Robe," where Father Laforgue, a young Jesuit missionary, is sent to minister to an isolated Indian tribe. Laforgue witnesses and endures horrendous torture, his own personal crucifixion. In the end, Laforgue arrives at his mission, his eyes forever widened to the full and crude potential of God's children.

Such is the instruction on coming out of a fight intact: to bark the knuckle, to hold the swollen eye, to take a shaky knee and find the will to stand and stagger forward again and again and again.

BLOCK: Alan Heathcock is the author of the book "VOLT."

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